The Feldenkrais Method
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
It sounds a bit like a religious cult.
Well, its not.
Its the Feldenkrais Method.
It does, however, have a bit of a cult feeling in that when one begins
training in this specialized movement method, one commits to a four-year training process.
To further compound this cult-like sense, Feldenkrais instructors and
students isolate themselves for three weeks each September at the Sawtooth Camp, which is
associated with the Presbyterian Church. This secluded spot, perfect for meditative
learning and hiking, is in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, north of Ketchum.
To become Feldenkrais practitioners, students must complete 800 hours of
training, mastering two integral components--"Functional Integration" and
"Awareness Through Movement." This later lesson typically begins with the
students lying on their backs and softly guided through a body scan to increase awareness
of how their body feels and works.
"We are interested in helping people with self actualization,"
Jeff Haller, the program director, said, as he sat on the steps of the Sawtooth Camp
Lodge, where the classes are taught everyday.
It may take another 10 years, the 6-foot-7-inch-tall Haller said, "to
get really good at it."
The Seattle-based Haller took the training in the 1970s and became
certified in 1983. He was a part of the first "class" of practitioners in the
Haller has worked with many athletes, and pointed out that martial arts is
the closest relation to Feldenkrais, in that the aim is for the body to always be working
The Feldenkrais Method is described as a precise approach to neuromuscular
relearning. Its named after its originator, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born
physicist, the first Western judo black belt, a mechanical engineer and an educator. His
method was conceived after he suffered a knee injury. By using gentle movement, according
to his ideas, one can improve agility and enhance human functioning.
Feldenkrais adherents contend practitioners can help them to increase
their ease and range of motion, increase flexibility, improve coordination and rediscover
their innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement.
They take very seriously, for instance, the way a baby moves before its
movements have been oppressed, tweaked or otherwise misguided while growing up.
("Dont climb those steps, Lenny, youll fall down and hurt yourself,"
the protective mother cries out.)
Feldenkrais asks you to regress to the time you were first discovering how
to move. Be the baby, roll over, experiment with your body. These are the essential
beginning points. Now while no one is asking you to become infantile, they are asking that
you to suspend all learned notions.
The practitioners talk or physically guide students through various series
of movements. While doing so, they question students to help them determine which postures
and movements are natural to their bodies and which have been learned and should perhaps
What makes this method different from, say Alexander, Pilates or Yoga is
the relationship between the practitioner and student (or client). Ultimately, the goal is
to remove the practitioner from the composition, leaving the student able to do the work
alone, and not dependent on those costly and time-consuming weekly therapy sessions
associated with most rehabilitation procedures.
"If you could have your hands disappear as the student moved through
the movements, that would be ideal," a local Feldenkrais practitioner, John
The students at this years gathering are a cheery and touchyfeely
mixed bag of comrades. Clearly they are comfortable with each other after three years of
classes, both here and in Seattle, where several of them live.
The students vary in age, country of origin and gender, and cover a wide
range of careers: airline pilot, professional dancer, performance artist, computer wonk,
lawyer, author and yogi The four-year-long program costs $14,400.
The programs two locals include Vladimiroff, who practices at the
Sun Valley Athletic Club, The Sacred Cow in Ketchum and at the Blaine County Fitness
Center in Hailey. He is also one of four instructors at this session.
Wanda Cole, the other local, is a massage therapist. Shes in her
third year of her training in Feldenkrais.
One of the chores students go through, to affirm their self-motivation, is
to invite people in town to the Sawtooth Camp for an evening class. Theyre sort of a
guinea pig, but a really pampered guinea pig, who goes home with good posture.
If this should happen to you, dont be alarmed. Its all very
amiable and reassuring. Establishing a rapport before beginning any work is very
important, say the programs advocates. Their mode of therapy is very gentle and
happens in small incremental motions, designed to integrate the whole body by connecting
the spine to all motions in an natural manner.
What separates this from similar forms of education, Haller said, is that
in the others, the teacher has an idea of what the student should be or look like.
"Essentially the difference here is the student and the practitioner
discover the best way together," he said.
Shaun Bagley, a 50-year-old student from Australia, was a computer
executive when he decided he needed a change.
"I wanted to grow old more gracefully," he said. "Instead
of trying to do things, find an alternative way which is ultimately more
The Feldenkrais Method is "very human," Bagely said.
Not everyone is amenable to such a concept. They want to be told how to
work, what posture is correct and how a dance step should look, to be technically correct,
instead of organically correct, Haller said.
"It is available to everyone but not everyone is available to
it," he said. "It often requires a life crisis, an accident or illness. Often
its the last resort."
And its often associated with people in pain, he said, but healthy
athletes, dancers and actors have all found it beneficial to gain that one 100th of a
second in the race, or to balance on that toe in exactly the right and most comfortable
John Chester is a retired orthopedic surgeon from Salem Ore., and on the
teaching staff of Hallers program. His wife began her Feldenkrais training 20 years
ago after every other form of traditional medicine had not helped her bad back.
"I was incredulous," he said, "of what I could sense that
she was getting for herself. It piqued my curiosity. I had a need to understand."
He began the training himself and saw, he said, "a change in
Except for those with blatant injuries, Chester said, most of his patients
came to him with aches and pains. What he called the "-itises."
"If we used ourselves more efficiently this wouldnt
happen," he said. "[Feldenkrais] shows you what to do."
Chester likened it to the way a dance instructor holds a student and
guides him or her around the dance floor while they learn. The student will eventually
feel the rightness of the motion and know it innately themselves.
"Its a dance," he said.